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The Jewish History Series

Lesson #5: The Man Who Fell From the Sky (1928)

On July 4, 1928, a Fokker trimotor aircraft took off from Croydon airfield just outside London, bound for Brussels. On board were the plane's owner, 51 year-old Alfred Loewenstein, a financier of immense wealth and influence. There were also the pilot, former WWI ace Donald Drew, as well as a co-pilot. It should be pointed out that both these men were in the cockpit which was sealed; there was no way to get from the cockpit into the passenger compartment or vice versa. Oddly enough, neither was there any kind of intercom or method of speaking to the pilot. Aircraft designers apparently hadn't thought of that in 1928. There was also a valet, a male secretary; and two female stenographers who according to contemporary accounts had just been hired from a temp agency that day, making a total of seven people.

The plane never reached its intended destination of Brussels . Instead, at about 6:30 p.m. local time it landed on a deserted beach on the Normandy coast for half an hour, and no clear account was ever obtainable as to what the passengers and crew did there. Then the plane took off again and made a three or four-minute flight, landing a second time at a French military airfield nearby, where the crew told French authorities that their boss Loewenstein was missing.

According to the four people in the passenger compartment, soon after the plane crossed the English coast off Dover , Loewenstein got up and went to the bathroom, which was a new development in aviation comfort, this particular model of Fokker being the first commercial plane ever equipped with such an amenity. It was in a small compartment at the back of the plane. After passing through the compartment door, Loewenstein went to the left and entered the bathroom. On the right was another door, which led out of the plane. There was also a door in a bulkhead separating the head from the rest of the aircraft, so anyone coming and going into rest room was not visible from the main compartment.

After about ten minutes they noticed he had not returned and his valet, Fred Baxter, went to check on him and found ... nothing.

A combined French and British air and sea search came up empty-handed, but two weeks later Alfred Loewenstein's body was found floating fully clothed (not nude as some reports had it) in mid-channel and picked up by a fishing trawler. An autopsy was carried out by Belgian authorities and it was discovered that Loewenstein did not die of drowning, but apparently of the pulverizing internal injuries which occurred when his body slammed into the ocean after falling for about five thousand feet. Watch that last step, Jewboy. It's a doozy.

Loewenstein's Catholic wife Madeleine had her husband buried in Brussels—in an unmarked grave. She did not attend the funeral. A hastily held inquest, oddly convened in Loewenstein's home country of Belgium instead of England, where the flight originated, or France, where the incident was first reported, ruled that Loewenstein's death was probably accidental, and although the case made international headlines, there the matter stands to this day.

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Alfred Loewenstein was a Belgian Jew of obscure origins, admittedly a brilliant financial mind. He was described in the newspapers of the time as a "notably successful entrepreneur" of the period from World War I through the 1920s. In fact, he was a high-flying international stock swindler, embezzler, and thief who spent his entire life dancing along the edge of the law and getting away with it, raking in millions of dollars and pounds and francs in the process. At one stage in the Roaring Twenties he was called "the richest man in the world." Yet so insufferably arrogant and untrustworthy was his character that even his own kind on the London Stock Exchange couldn't stand him. He was devoid of either financial or personal ethics, a serial adulterer who spent his rare occasions at home beating his wife and his children.

Although Belgian by nationality, Loewenstein had lived in Britain since he fled from the advancing Germans in 1914. During the First World War, Loewenstein zeroed in on the incredible profits to be made in war contracting to the British Army, and managed to procure for himself a job in the Royal Army Services Corps (what we would call Quartermaster Corps) which involved supplying the British Army with various material and supplies by civilian contractors. War profiteering is an ancient commercial specialty of the Jewish people. Indeed, there is a Yiddish proverb which loosely translates as: "When the goyim bleed, the Jews shall feed."

Loewenstein developed such an unsavory reputation in the war procurement business, and the allegations of fraud, kickbacks, and shady dealings were so persistent that in 1917 the British Army cashiered him and fired him from his job in the Services Corps. Such was Loewenstein's pull that the very next day after he was fired, he walked into his office and sat down at his old desk, this time wearing the uniform of a captain in the Belgian Army! For the rest of his life the Jew referred to himself as "Captain Loewenstein" and wore an array of medals he never earned, which made him really popular among genuine veterans who had fought in the trenches.

When the war ended "Captain" Loewenstein was a pound sterling millionaire. How he managed to accomplish this on the salary of a lowly captain, in either army, he never explained. Loewenstein then plunged headlong into virtually every unsavory business he could find, from international arms dealing where he was the partner of the sinister and infamous Jew Basil Zaharoff, to international narcotics smuggling where he was the European representative of Arnold "The Brain" Rothstein, the Jew who was the real founder of the American Mafia. Indeed, it has always been speculated that Loewenstein's death might have had something to do with the Rothstein connection, since Loewenstein had just come back from a trip to the United States where he met with Rothstein in New York, in May of 1928.

But above all, Loewenstein was a master of the stock market swindle, the promotion of worthless stocks, bankrupt companies, and non-existent African gold mines, anything that could part the suckers from their money. Loewenstein displayed a positive genius not only for making huge sums of money illicitly, but for staying just barely on the right side of the law. He was investigated a dozen times by police and such regulatory agencies as existed in the 1920s, in England and the United States, Europe and South Africa. The law never managed to lay a glove on him.

All this time, Loewenstein was leading a gaudy and expensive lifestyle—there was his manor house in the shires where he allegedly bought his way into the local fox hunt for a colossal sum, his incredible retinue, racing stable, eight villas in Biarritz, and fantastic fox-hunting weekends where the best of British society milked this Jewish outsider for stock tips (and snubbed him everywhere else). His wife Madeleine and their children lived apart from him in Brussels , and some of Loewenstein's house parties in his British country seat developed into drunken and drug-sodden orgies of sex and high-stakes gambling that shocked even the jaded flappers and jazz babies of the Twenties. Edward, Prince of Wales, who later reigned briefly as Edward VIII, had to be forcibly banned by his father King George V and Scotland Yard's Special Branch from attending any Loewenstein functions because of the immense potential for scandal.

Loewenstein's death was odd in all kinds of ways, not just his manner of exiting from life. No real investigation was undertaken, and it looks very much as if the fix was in on an elevated level. The pilot of the death plane's story alone had more holes in it than a Swiss cheese, but Captain Drew was allowed to depart for a job in South America and never questioned again. He died of cancer several years later. The valet Fred Baxter was found with a bullet in his brain, an alleged suicide. All the other passengers on the ill-fated death flight disappeared from view; when author William Norris tried to track them down in the late 1970s all were dead, but he did manage to speak to the co-pilot's widow and get hold of the notes Loewenstein had been working on during the flight before his ill-fated trip to the crapper. After fifty years Norris was unable to make much sense of the notes; they may or may not have had something to do with his death. But one wondered how the co-pilot ended up with them in his possession and why he kept them?

What gives the case its very odd flavor is that it is just plain impossible for events to have occurred as all six witnesses claimed—and yet none of them were even called to testify at the inquest, and the police in three countries proved themselves to be intensely disinterested in finding out what happened. Apparently Loewenstein was so universally despised that the attitude all around was "good riddance to bad rubbish."

The official version was that after completing his ablutions, Loewenstein got confused when he left the cubicle and opened the outside door instead of the door to the cabin, stepping out and falling to his death in a cartoonish freak accident. This is horsefeathers. It couldn't have happened like that. For one thing, door was locked with heavy deadbolts on the inside, and Loewenstein would have had to slide them back. For another, the door was clearly marked "exit." In addition, the noise of a door opening on a plane in midair would have alerted everyone aboard.

The Fokker's cruising speed was approximately 160 mph, and the 6' X 4' door through which Alfred Loewenstein was alleged to have fallen opened outward and on the after side of the doorframe, against the slipstream. Several fascinated news agencies did follow the story, and some journalists attempted to reproduce the alleged accident using the same model of airplane at cruising speed and altitude. It couldn't be done, at least not accidentally. It took two muscular male reporters wearing safety lines working together and using all their strength to force open the door in midair, against the slipstream, just wide enough for a human body to squeeze through.

Finally, when the door eventually was forced open with great effort against the wind, it acted just like a braking aerolon and caused the airplane to buck up and down like a bronco. There was simply no way that the door could have been opened in flight without a group effort, and without the pilot and everyone in the cabin noticing something was very wrong. These facts apply to both accident and suicide, and would seem to eliminate both possibilities.

Another mystery is why the pilot chose to land on a deserted and (he thought) unobserved stretch of beach in France. What were the six people doing during that time? The unscheduled stop actually came out in the newspapers because someone saw them land and notified the French police, and a couple of gendarmes came down to the beach, asking if they needed assistance. The passengers and crew admitted that someone had gone overboard but refused to give Loewenstein's name. Had they not been seen, it's possible that the initial covert landing would never have been reported to the authorities. Some speculated that Loewenstein had actually been murdered on the beach and his body dumped in the drink there, but this seems contradicted by the medical evidence that he did indeed fall and also by the fact that his body was not washed up but was found floating high in mid-Channel.

One theory that has developed down the years is that the murder was meticulously planned to the point where one of the conspirators actually had a second door for the Fokker made, removed the factory door and installed the spare. Then once in the airplane the valet and male secretary overpowered or pulled a gun on Loewenstein. (Neither the pilot nor co-pilot, remember, could have gotten into the cabin to participate in the actual murder, although they had to be aware of some kind of rumpus going on behind them. It had to have been the two men, with the two women at least looking on.) The killers removed the entire door from its hinges, which would have been much easier than trying to force it open against the air pressure of the slipstream, and kicked it out into space, and then threw Loewenstein out after it. The pilot then landed, removed the original door with the matching manufacturers' serial numbers from a storage place in the luggage compartment, and re-installed it before flying on to the French aerodrome. No door from a Fokker trimotor was ever found, but it was mostly metal and would have sunk to the bottom of the Channel.

As Sherlock Holmes said in one of his stories, "When one has eliminated the impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." The astounding fact is that the death of Alfred Loewenstein had to be murder. Anything else was physically impossible—and all of the other six people on the plane had to be in on it, because they all told a blatant and obviously choreographed lie. This included the two female stenographers who had supposedly just been brought along as temporary help and hadn't even met Loewenstein before that morning.

But who would have the will, the finances, and the power to carry out such a complex assassination? The fact is that the list of people who wanted Alfred Loewenstein dead was the size of a phone book, and at the head of the list was his own long-neglected and abused Gentile wife Madeleine, the daughter of a Belgian industrialist whom Loewenstein had ruined and according to rumor driven to suicide. After Madeleine came droves of people Loewenstein had cheated of their life's savings, as well as one half-crazed Swiss inventor whom he had swindled out of a priceless patent for treating and hardening aircraft wing and fuselage canvas during the war. (All-metal aircraft were unknown until the 1920s.)

There were also rumors flying about at the time of his death that Loewenstein's paper empire was about to crumble, and that the American authorities were about to indict Loewenstein for narcotics smuggling-related crimes. Could it have been a mob hit ordered by Arnold Rothstein? Rothstein was certainly capable of it, but in the 1920s the mob was even less known for subtlety than in the present day, what with all the Tommy guns and such. If Loewenstein had been on the spot marked X Rothstein could have had him gunned down in New York only a month before, where Rothstein owned the cops and the judges.

No, something this outré has a definite British feel about it. Sounds like someone was reading too many of those incredibly elaborate murder mysteries of the period and decided to try their hand, but whoever it was, they pulled it off. It could have been a government-ordered rub-out, by one of James Bond's precursors. But it also needs to be remembered that in his time, Loewenstein had ripped off just about every major figure in the British financial world.

I know it's difficult for us now to envisage a time when the Jews didn't rule the roost in the upper strata of society, but such a time once was. In those days the British upper class were made of much sterner stuff than these boy-buggering weenies we've got today who act as the American President's poodles. Some of those Victorian holdovers would not have appreciated being robbed and deceived by a jumped-up pushcart peddler like Al Loewenstein. Somebody went to a lot of time and effort to set this up--and a very nasty Jewboy took a very long swan dive. It couldn't have happened to a nicer hebe.

Well, whoever it was—jolly good show, old chaps!